Unless you’re an absolute stickler for chronology, you probably didn’t start Diana Palmer’s Long, Tall Texan series from the beginning. There’s just too many of them, and it isn’t absolutely necessary: She’s been publishing Jacobsville stories for decades, and the books aren’t bound tightly together with connected plots.
Instead, they’re glued together with something even better: Massive, gossipy infodumps.
Despite being, shall we say, a bit old-fashioned, there’s lots about these books that’s outright addictive: The pacing is good, the angst abundant, and the sex strangely compelling (probably because you don’t expect characters so wholesome to be so freaky).
What shouldn’t be as appealing are Palmer’s seemingly irrelevant asides on characters from previous novels. Virtually every book includes at least one slightly stilted conversation between two characters (often the romantic leads) where they discuss the local goings-on. Here’s an example from Coltrain’s Proposal. One minute they’re discussing Copper’s romantic past, then Lou and the nurse Brenda switch gears to some other juicy tidbits:
“Wasn’t it surprising about Ted Regan and Coreen Tarleton, though?” Brenda added with a chuckle.
“Indeed it was,” Lou agreed, smiling as she remembered having Ted for a patient. “She was shaking all over when she got him to me with that gored arm. He was cool. Nothing shakes Ted. But Coreen was white as milk.”
“I thought they were already married,” Brenda groaned. “Well, I was new to the area and I didn’t know them. I do now,” she added, laughing. “I pass them at least once a week on their way to the obstetrician’s office. She’s due any day.”
Lou and Copper are especially well-positioned for details, since in these books someone’s always getting shot or suddenly conceiving or just plain fainting. But even better are the recaps into the ongoing struggle against a local drug outfit. An entire plot arc revolved around a cartel’s attempts to set up shop in Jacobsville, and because every other adult male works in law enforcement, several books included passages like this one from Lionhearted:
Marilee looked worried. “Harley Fowler told her he was bringing Janie.”
“Harley?” Leo scowled. Harley Fowler was a courageous young man who’d actually backed up the town’s infamous mercenaries—Eb Scott, Cy Parks, and Micah Steele—when they helped law enforcement face down a gang of drug dealers the year before.
This investigation has more leaks than the Lousitania. Someone at the Sheriff’s Department deserves to get fired.
These passages are like getting cornered at the post office by the town gossip. Palmer can’t have you running around without the scoop! In almost any other series, this kind of inside baseball would be insufferable. But Palmer has been publishing Long, Tall Texan novels for decades, so there are dozens of couples whose fates fans are emotionally invested in. Every time someone is mentioned as pregnant, or having finally patched things up with their estranged husband, or overcome a rough patch, it’s thrilling for long-time readers.
What’s more, these out-of-context conversations are actually quite true to the way you’re introduced to any new community: You’re the third wheel in conversations about people you’ve never met, getting snippets about someone’s broken arm or tragic love affair. Details accrete, like who’s whose cousin, and who’s whose ex, and slowly you’re woven into the social fabric. These conversations make Jacobsville the Yoknapatawpha County of Romancelandia.
Sure, the place operates according to the slightly wacky physical laws of the soap opera universe, rather than reality. (No town holds that many cops, and there’s nowhere in modern American with that many virgins.) But despite the shifting geography and the sometimes unlikely characters and the extreme melodrama, Palmer’s fictional world feels inhabited, and gossip is the glue that holds it together.
By day, Kelly Faircloth covers innovation and technology. She spends the rest of her time reading and writing about books. Her work has appeared at io9, Inc and The Big Money, and she blogs intermittently at www.NoKindaLady.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyFaircloth.